The rebuilt Bluenose II could miss yet another sailing season, as a hydraulic system is designed and installed to fix major steering problems that continue to plague a vessel two years overdue and millions over budget.

The Bluenose II was taken on its first sea trial Tuesday, returning to dock in Lunenburg during the afternoon after several hours on the water.

The provincial government had promised advance notice of the event, but a news release was issued eight minutes after the Bluenose had already left on the sea trial.

The main stumbling block remains the steering problem caused by the new heavy steel rudder, according to Premier Stephen McNeil’s deputy minister, David Darrow, who is now overseeing the trouble-plagued project.

"I must tell you that I am not optimistic we will be able to salvage much, if any, of this year’s sailing season," he told reporters following the sea trial.

He said just 30 pounds of force should be needed to turn the steering wheel. Instead, "well in excess of a 100 pounds of force" is needed to pull the Bluenose II wheel to port or starboard.

Under the guidance of a newly assembled team of three experts, the province has decided to add hydraulics to the steering mechanism.

Darrow said the system design is underway, but it needs regulatory approval and it still needs to be built and installed. The backup plan is to add buoyant material to the rudder to make it lighter.

Darrow was brought in recently by McNeil to oversee the project. He refused to comment on why there’s been so many problems.

But he acknowledged Lunenburg, where the rebuild is being done and where the original Bluenose and Bluenose II were built, has suffered.

"I know there are reputational issues," he said. "The town’s reputation has been tarnished. I wish I could undo what has been done, but that’s not possible."

The vessel arrived back at the wharf shortly after 2 p.m., as expected. Darrow said it passed all tests, aside from the steering.

Delay after delay plagues vessel

The schooner was supposed to return to regular sailing two summers ago after an extensive two-year rebuild at a cost of $14.4 million, with $7.2 million coming from the federal government.

But the restoration has suffered from budget overruns and repeated delays, prompting Premier Stephen McNeil to ask the province's auditor general to review the project.

Right now, the cost of the rebuild sits at nearly $19 million, but that doesn't include $4.2 million in costs being disputed by the province. 

That figure also doesn't include other work that has yet to be accounted for, or work that has yet to be done on the schooner, said Deputy Minister Kelliann Dean.